J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

July, 2011

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    Double-Loop Learning and How Agile Approaches Change the Game to Thrive in Times of Change


    All paths lead to the same town. 

    I love it when dots finally connect, or when we have a name, or label, or vocabulary to express a concept that’s been around for a while, that people intuitively know from experience.  It makes it easier to share with others that don’t.  Here’s a bit of interesting research that might explain why agile practices can have a profound impact on creating powerful, highly effective learning organizations, and high-caliber execution machines.

    In the article, Chris Argyris: Theories of Action, Double-Loop Learning and Organizational Learning, by infed, we learn about theories-in-action vs. espoused theory, and double-loop learning vs. single-loop learning.

    Single-Loop Learning vs. Double-Loop Learning
    If learning involves the detection and correction of error, then Single-Loop learning is about finding and fixing problems within a set of governing variables.  It simply looks to operationalize the values, goals, and plans.  That’s not a game changer.  Double-Loop Learning, on the other hands, looks to question the governing variables themselves.  Here is an elaboration from the article:

    • Single-Loop Learning – According to the article, “Single-loop learning seems to be present when goals, values, frameworks and, to a significant extent, strategies are taken for granted. The emphasis is on ‘techniques and making techniques more efficient.”
    • Double-Loop Learning – According to the article, “Double-loop learning, in contrast, ‘involves questioning the role of the framing and learning systems which underlie actual goals and strategies … Double-loop learning is necessary if practitioners and organizations are to make informed decisions in rapidly changing and often uncertain contexts.”

    Theories in Use vs. Espoused Theory
    Theories-in-use are what you actually use and do in practice.  On the other hand, espoused theory is what you say you do, which may be completely different.  Here is an elaboration:

    • Theories-in-Use – According to the article, theories-in-use are “those theories that are implicit in what we do as practitioners and managers … They govern actual behavior and tend to be tacit structures. Their relation to action 'is like the relation of grammar-in-use to speech; they contain assumptions about self, others and environment - these assumptions constitute a microcosm of science in everyday life'”
    • Espoused Theory – According to the article, espoused theory is “those on which we call to speak of our actions to others … The words we use to convey what we, do or what we would like others to think we do.”

    Model I and Model II – Theories-in-Use
    Theories-in-Use can either enhance or inhibit double-loop learning.  Model I inhibits.  Model II enhances.  Here’s a summary:

    • Model I – According to the article, “It involves ‘making inferences about another person’s behaviour without checking whether they are valid and advocating one’s own views abstractly without explaining or illustrating one’s reasoning’ (Edmondson and Moingeon 1999:161).  The theories-in-use are shaped by an implicit disposition to winning (and to avoid embarrassment). The primary action strategy looks to the unilateral control of the environment and task plus the unilateral protection of self and others. As such Model I leads to often deeply entrenched defensive routines (Argyris 1990; 1993) – and these can operate at individual, group and organizational levels.”
    • Model II – According to the article, “The significant features of Model II include the ability to call upon good quality data and to make inferences. It looks to include the views and experiences of participants rather than seeking to impose a view upon the situation. Theories should be made explicit and tested, positions should be reasoned and open to exploration by others. … Found in settings and organizations that look to shared leadership. It looks to: Emphasize common goals and mutual influence.  Encourage open communication, and to publicly test assumptions and beliefs, and combine advocacy with inquiry.”


    Model I – Theories-in-Use

    Model II – Theories-In-Use

    The governing Values of Model I are:

    • Achieve the purpose as the actor defines it
    • Win, do not lose
    • Suppress negative feelings
    • Emphasize rationality

    Primary Strategies are:

    • Control environment and task unilaterally
    • Protect self and others unilaterally

    Usually operationalized by:

    • Un-illustrated attributions and evaluations e.g.. "You seem unmotivated"
    • Advocating courses of action which discourage inquiry e.g.. "Lets not talk about the past, that's over."
    • Treating ones' own views as obviously correct
    • Making covert attributions and evaluations
    • Face-saving moves such as leaving potentially embarrassing facts unstated

    Consequences include:

    • Defensive relationships
    • Low freedom of choice
    • Reduced production of valid information
    • Little public testing of ideas

    The governing values of Model II include:

    • Valid information
    • Free and informed choice
    • Internal commitment
    Strategies include:
    • Sharing control
    • Participation in design and implementation of action
    Operationalized by:
    • Attribution and evaluation illustrated with relatively directly observable data
    • Surfacing conflicting view
    • Encouraging public testing of evaluations

    Consequences should include:

    • Minimally defensive relationships
    • High freedom of choice
    • Increased likelihood of double-loop learning

    What’s interesting in the article is that most people "say” they use Model II, but that’s simply “espoused theory”.

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    Where the Focus Goes


    It’s always interesting to see where people put their focus, as well as how their patterns show up.  Here are some patterns of focus, which reveal how people show their values on the job:

    • Some focus on the process
    • Some focus on the thing/results/deliverables
    • Some focus on the impact
    • Some focus on the learning
    • Some focus on the journey
    • Some focus on the score
    • Some focus on the beans
    • Some focus on directing
    • Some focus on doing
    • Some focus on thinking
    • Some focus on creating and innovating
    • Some focus on completing
    • Some focus on policing
    • Some focus on correcting
    • Some focus on aligning
    • Some focus on schmoozing
    • Some focus on excuses
    • Some focus on solutions

    … some focus on giving their best where they’ve got their best to give, finding their flow, lifting others up, and changing the game.

    Of course, we’re all hybrids, but it’s interesting to see where some people dominate and drive from.

    Knowing the patterns makes it easier to bridge and switch perspectives, spot problems, and uncork potential.

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    Inspirational Quotes


    Old school is “carrots and sticks.”  New school is “inspired action.”  I think of inspiration as, “to breathe life into.”  Inspiration is powerful because it comes from within, and intrinsic motivation wins over extrinsic motivation in the long run.

    I’ve put together an extensive collection of some of the most inspirational quotes of all time.   In a patterns & practices sort of way, I drew from a lot of sources, including Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Emerson, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Twain, Franklin, Churchill and more.  Bruce Lee is in there too.

    Use the inspirational quotes to help you roll with the punches, stand strong when tested, and bring out your best in whatever you do, whether it’s writing the code to change the world, leading projects to change the game, managing people to bring out their best, or simply giving your best where you’ve got your best to give.

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    Microsoft Cloud Case Studies at a Glance


    Cloud computing is hot.  As customers makes sense of what the Microsoft cloud story means to them, one of the first things they tend to do is look for case studies of the Microsoft cloud platform.  They like to know what their peers, partners, and other peeps are doing.

    Internally, I get to see a lot of what our customers are doing across various industries and how they are approaching the cloud behind the scenes.  It’s amazing the kind of transformations that cloud computing brings to the table and makes possible.  Cloud computing is truly blending and connecting business and IT (Information Technology), and it’s great to see the connection.  In terms of patterns, customers are using the cloud to either reduce cost, create new business opportunities and agility, or compete in ways they haven’t been able to before.  One of the most significant things cloud computing does is force people to truly understand what business they are in and what their strategy actually is.

    Externally, luckily, we have a great collection of Microsoft cloud case studies available at Windows Azure Case Studies.

    I find having case studies of the Microsoft cloud story makes it easy to see patterns and to get a sense of where some things are going.  Here is a summary of some of the case studies available, and a few direct links to some of the studies.

    Advertising Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in advertising:

    Air Transportation Services
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in air transportation services:

    Capital Markets and Securities Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in capital markets and securities:

    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in education:

    Employment Placement Agencies
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in employment agencies:

    • OCC Match - Job-listing web site scales up solution, reduces costs by more than U.S. $500,000.

    Energy and Environmental Agencies
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in enery and environmental agencies:

    • European Environment Agency (EEA) - Environment agency's pioneering online tools bring revolutionary data to citizens.

    Financial Services Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in the financial services industry:

    • eVision Systems - Israeli startup offers cost-effective, scalable procurement system using cloud services.
      Fiserv - Fiserv evaluates cloud technologies as it enhances key financial services offerings.
    • NVoicePay - New company tackles big market with cloud-based B2B payment solution.
    • RiskMetrics - Financial risk-analysis firm enhances capabilities with dynamic computing.

    Food Service Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in the food service industry:

    • Outback Steakhouse - Outback Steakhouse boosts guests loyalty with Facebook and Windows Azure.

    Government Agencies
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in government agencies:

    Healthcare Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in healthcare:

    • Vectorform - Digital design and technology firm supports virtual cancer screening with 3-D viewer.

    High Tech and Electronics Manufacturing
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in high tech and electronics manufacturing:

    • 3M - 3M launches Web-based Visual Attention Service to heighten design impact. - http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Case_Study_Detail.aspx?CaseStudyID=4000005768
    • GXS Trading Grid - Electronic services firm reaches out to new markets with cloud-based solution.
    • iLink Systems - Custom developer reduces development time, cost by 83 percent for Web, PC, mobile target.
    • Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group - Microsoft quickly delivers interactive cloud-based tool to ease partner transition.
    • Sharpcloud - Software startup triples productivity, saves $500,000 with cloud computing solution.
    • Symon Communications - Digital innovator uses cloud computing to expand product line with help from experts.
    • VeriSign - Security firm helps customers create highly secure hosted infrastructure solutions.
    • Xerox - Xerox cloud print solution connects mobile workers to printers around the world.

    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in hosting:

    • Izenda - Hosted business intelligence solution saves companies up to $250,000 in IT support and development costs.
    • Mamut - Hosting provider uses scalable computing to create hybrid backup solution.
    • Metastorm - Partner opens new market segments with cloud-based business process solution.
    • Qlogitek - Supply chain integrator relies on Microsoft platform to facilitate $20 billion in business.
    • SpeechCycle - Next generation contact center solution uses cloud to deliver software-plus-services.
    • TBS Mobility - Mobility software provider opens new markets with software-plus-services.

    Insurance Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in the insurance industry:

    IT Services
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in IT services:

    • BEDIN Shop Systems - Luxury goods retailer gains point-of-sale solution in minutes with cloud-based system. - http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Case_Study_Detail.aspx?CaseStudyID=4000008195
    • Broad Reach Mobility - Firm streamlines field-service tasks with cloud solution. - http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Windows-Azure/Broad-Reach-Mobility/Firm-Streamlines-Field-Service-Tasks-with-Cloud-Solution/4000008493
    • Codit - Solution provider streamlines B2B connections using cloud services. - http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Microsoft-BizTalk-Server/Codit/Solution-Provider-Streamlines-B2B-Connections-Using-Cloud-Services/4000008528
    • Cumulux - Software developer focuses on innovation, extends cloud services value for customers. - http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Case_Study_Detail.aspx?CaseStudyID=4000007947
    • eCraft - IT firm links web applications to powerful business management software.
    • EdisonWeb - Web firm saves $30,000 annually, expands global growth with cloud database service.
    • Epicor - Software developer saves money, enhances application with Internet-based platform.
    • ESRI - GIS provider lowers cost of customer entry, opens new markets with hosted services.
    • Formotus - Forms automation company uses cloud storage to lower mobile data access costs.
    • FullArmor - FullArmor PolicyPortal Technical Brief: A Windows Azure/Software-plus-Services Solution
    • Gcommerce - Service provider transforms special-order process with a hybrid cloud and on-premises inventory solution.
    • GoGrid - Hosting provider extends service offerings, attracts customers with "cloud" platform.
    • Guppers - Mobile data services quickly and cost-effectively scale with cloud services solution.
    • HCL Technologies - IT firm delivers carbon-data management in the cloud, lowers barriers for customers.
    • HubOne - Australian development firm grows business exponentially with cloud services.
    • IMPACTA - IT security firm delivers low cost, high protection with online file transfer service.
    • Infosys - Infosys creates cloud-based solution for auto dealers using SQL data services.
    • InterGrid GreenButton - GreenButton super computing power in the cloud.
    • InterGrid - Software developers offer quick processing of compute-heavy tasks with cloud services.
    • ISHIR Infotech - IT company attracts new customers at minimal cost with cloud computing solution.
    • K2 - Software firm moves business processes and line-of-business data into the cloud.
    • Kelly Street Digital - Digital marketing startup switches cloud providers and saves $4,200 monthly.
    • Kompas Xnet - IT integrator delivers high-availability website at lower cost with online services.
    • LINQPad - Software developers gain the ease of LINQ data queries to compelling cloud content.
    • Meridium - Asset performance management solution increases performance and interoperability.
    • metaSapiens - ISV optimizes data browsing tool for online data, expects to enter global marketplace.
    • Microsoft - Microsoft IT moves auction tool to the cloud, makes it easier for employees to donate.
    • NeoGeo New Media - Digital media asset management solution gains scalability with SQL Data Services.
    • Paladin Data Systems - Software provider reduces operating costs with cloud-based solution.
    • Persistent Systems - Software services provider delivers cost-effective e-government solution.
    • Propelware - Intuit integration provider reduces development time, cost by 50 percent.
    • Quilink - Innovative technology startup creates contact search solution, gains global potential.
    • Siemens - Siemens expands software delivery service, significantly reduces TCO.
    • Sitecore - Company builds compelling web experiences in the cloud for multinational organizations.
    • SOASTA - Cloud services help performance-testing firm simulate real-world Internet traffic.
    • Softronic - Firm meets demand for streamlined government solutions using cloud platform.
    • SugarCRM - CRM vendor quickly adapts to new platform, adds global, scalable delivery channel.
    • Synteractive - Solution provider uses cloud technology to create novel social networking software.
    • Transactiv - Software start-up scales for demand without capital expenses by using cloud services.
    • Umbraco - Web content management system provider moves solution to the cloud to expand market.
    • Volantis - Mobile services ISV gains seamless scalability with Windows Azure platform.
    • Wipro - IT services company reduces costs, expands opportunities with new cloud platform.Zitec - IT consultancy saves up to 90
    • percent on relational database costs with cloud services.
    • Zmanda - Software company enriches cloud-based backup solution with structured data storage.

    Life Sciences
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in life sciences:

    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in manufacturing:

    Media and Entertainment Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in media and entertainment:

    • OriginDigital - Video services provider to reduce transcoding costs up to half.
    • Sir Speedy - Publishing giant creates innovative web based service for small-business market.
    • STATS - Sports data provider saves $1 million on consumer market entry via cloud services.
    • TicketDirect - Ticket seller finds ideal business solution in hosted computing platform.
    • TicTacTi - Advertising company adopts cloud computing, gets 400 percent improvement.
    • Tribune - Tribune transforms business for heightened relevance by embracing cloud computing.
    • VRX Studios - Global photography company transforms business with scalable cloud solution.

    Metal Fabrication Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in metal fabrication:

    • ExelGroup - ExelGroup achieves cost reduction and efficiency increase with Soft1 on Windows Azure.

    Nonprofit Organizations
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in non-profit organizations:

    • Microsoft Disaster Response Team - Helping governments recover from disasters: Microsoft and partners provide technology and other assistance following natural disasters in Haiti and Pakistan.

    Oil and Gas Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in oil and gas:

    • The Information Store (iStore) - Solution developer expects to boost efficiency with software-plus-services strategy.

    Professional Services
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in professional services:

    Publishing Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in publishing:

    • MyWebCareer - Web startup saves $305,000, sees ever-ready scalability—without having to manage IT.

    Retail Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in retail:

    • Glympse.com - Location-sharing solution provider gains productivity, agility with hosted services.
      höltl Retail Solutions - German retail solutions firm gains new customers with cloud computing solution.

    Software Engineering
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in software:

    Telecommunications Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in telecommunications:

    • IntelePeer - Telecommunications firm develops solution to speed on-demand conference calls.
    • SAPO - Portugal telecom subsidiary helps ensure revenue opportunities in the cloud.
    • T-Mobile USA - Mobile operator speeds time-to-market for innovative social networking solution.
    • T-Systems - Telecommunications firm reduces development and deployment time with hosting platform.

    Training Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in training:

    • Point8020 - Learning content provider uses cloud platform to enhance content delivery.

    Transportation and Logistics Industry
    Examples of the Microsoft cloud case studies in transportation:

    • TradeFacilitate - Trade data service scales online solution to global level with "cloud" services model.

    My Related Posts

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    Friday Links 07-22-2011


    From the Archives
    Agile Architecture Method -- Scope and focus your architecture exercise, use scenarios to drive the design and evaluate potential solutions, and expose key choice points.  It's a way to bridge traditional architecture with more agile, iterative, and incremental ways.  This approach is the synthesis of more than 30 seasoned solution architects inside and outside of Microsoft, as well as  security experts, and performance experts.

    User Stories for Cloud Enterprise Strategy -- A collection of user stories for the cloud.  This collection is a simple map of the most common scenarios that Enterprise Architects, business leaders, and IT leaders will be facing as they adopt cloud technologies.  These are real scenarios from real customers, thinking through and planning their cloud adoption.

    Windows Azure Whitepapers Roundup – If you want to read up on Microsoft’s cloud story, there are plenty of whitepapers to get you started.   This is a collection of the various Windows Azure whitepapers around Microsoft for developers, IT Pros, and business leaders.

    From the Web
    Motivation Guidelines – A set of proven practices for improving your motivation, finding your drive, and inspiring action.  Motivation is a skill you can use the rest of your life.  Find the key practices that work for you, and use this collection as your mental toolbox to draw from.

    36 Best Business Books that Influenced Microsoft Leaders – The beauty of Microsoft is the extremely high concentration of smart people and  I like to leverage the collective brain  I posed the following question to several Microsoft leaders, past and present, and up and down the ranks, ““What are the top 3 books that changed your life in terms of business effectiveness?”  This is the answer I got.

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    One-Man Band vs. Pairing Up On Problems


    How you split the work is one thing.  How you team up on work is another.

    This is one of those patterns that can be counter-intuitive, but is one of the single-biggest factors for successful teams.  I've seen it time and again, over many years, in many places. 

    When I compare the effectiveness of various organizations, there's a pattern that always stands out.  It's how they leverage their capabilities in terms of teamwork.  For the sake of simplicity, I'll simply label the two patterns:

    1. One-Man Bands (or Teams of One)
    2. Pairing Up (or Crews of Capabilities)

    In the One-Man Band scenario, while everybody is on a team, they are all working on seperate things and individual parts.  In the Pairing Up scenario, multiple people work on the same problems, together.  In other words ...

    • One-Mand Band -- One person works on problem 1, one person works on problem 2, etc.
    • Pairing Up -- 5 people work on problem 1, then problem 2, then problem 3, etc.

    The Obvious Answer is Often the Wrong Answer
    The obvious choice is to divide and conquer the work and split the resources to tackle it.  That would be great if this was the industrial age, and it was just an assembly line.  The problem is it's the knowledge area, and in the arena of knowledge work, you need multiple skills and multiple perspectives to make things happen effectively and efficiently.

    Teams of Capabilities, Beat Teams of One
    In other words, you need teams of capabilities.  When you Pair Up, you're combining capabilities.  When you combine capabilities, that means that people spend more time in their strengths.  You might be great at the technical perspective, but then lack the customer perspective.  Or you might be great at doing it, but not presenting it.  Or you might be great at thinking up ideas, but suck at sticking with the daily grind to finish the tough stuff.  Or you might be great at grinding through the tasks, but not so great at coming up with ideas, or prioritizing, etc.

    The One-Man Band Scenario Creates Bottlenecks and Inefficiencies
    As the One-Man Band, what happens is everybody bottlenecks.  They spend more time in their weaknesses and things they aren't good at.  Worse, the person ends up married to their idea, or the idea represents just one person's thinking, instead of the collective perspective.

    Crews Spend More Time in Strengths and Gain Efficiencies
    If you've had the benefit of seeing these competing strategies first hand, then it's easy with hind-sight to fully appreciate the value of Pairing Up on problems vs. splitting the work up into One-Man Bands.  For many people, they've never had the benefit of working as "crews" or pairing up on problems, and, instead, spend a lot of energy working on their weaknesses and meanwhile, spending way less time on their strength.

    When people work as teams of capabilities, and are Pairing Up on problems, the execution engine starts to streamline, people gain efficiencies, and get exponential results.  Several by-products also happen:

    • Individuals end up with shared goals instead of bifurcating effort and energy
    • Collaboration increases because people have shared goals
    • Individuals start to prioritize more effectively because it's at the "system" level vs. the "individual" level
    • Individuals grow in their core skills because they spend more time in strengths, and less time in weaknesses
    • Employee engagement goes up, and work satisfaction improves, as people find their flow, grow their strengths, and make things happen

    There are Execution Patterns for High Performing Teams
    Of course there are exceptions to the generalization (for example, some individuals have a wide variety of just the right skills), and of course their are success patterns (and anti-patterns) for building highly effective teams of capabilities, and effectively pairing people up in ways that are empowering, and catalyzing.  I learned many of these the hard way, through trial and error, and many years of experimenting while under the gun to bring out the best in individuals and simultaneously unleash and debottleneck teams for maximum performance and impact.  I’ve also had the benefit of mentoring teams, and individuals in reshaping their execution.  This is probably an area where it’s worth me sharing a more focused collection of patterns and practices on leading high performance teams.

    If you have a favorite post or favorite write up that drills into this topic, please send it my way.  In my experience, it's one of the most fundamental game changers to improving the execution and impact of any team, and especially, one that does any sort of knowledge work, and engineering.

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    Video–Ed Jezierski on Getting Results the Agile Way


    It’s always great to see how technology can help make the world a better place.

    You might remember Ed Jezierski from his Microsoft days.  In his early years at Microsoft, he worked on the Microsoft Developer Support team, helping customers succeed on the platform.    These early experiences taught Ed the value of teamwork and collaboration, extreme customer focus, and the value of principles, patterns, and proven practices for addressing recurring issues, and building more robust designs.

    From there, Ed was one of the early members of the patterns & practices team.  As one of the first Program Managers on the patterns & practices team, Ed was the driving force behind many of the first guides from patterns & practices for developers, including the Data Access guide, and the early Application Architecture guide.  He was also the master mind behind the first application blocks (Exception Management Block, Data Access Block, Caching Block, etc.) , which forever changed the destiny of patterns & practices.  The application blocks helped transition patterns & practices from an IT and system administrator focus,  to a focus on developers and solution architects.  In his role as an Architect, on the patterns & practices team, Ed played a significant role in shaping the technical strategy and orchestrating key design and engineering issues across the patterns & practices portfolio.  One of his most significant impacts was the early design and shaping  of the Microsoft Enterprise Library.

    In his later years, Ed worked on incubation and innovation teams, where he learned a lot about streamlining innovation, making things happen, and how to create systems and processes to support innovation, in a more organic and agile way, to balance more formal engineering practices for bringing ideas and innovation to market.

    But, just like James Bond, “the world is not enough.”  Ed’s passion was always for helping people around the world in a grand scale.  His strength and amazing skill is applying technology to change the world and making the world a better place, by solving solve real-world problems.  (I still remember the day, Ed showed up in his bullet proof armor, ready to deploy technology in some of the most dangerous places in the world.)

    Now, as CTO at InSTEDD, Ed hops around the globe helping communities everywhere design and use technology to continuously improve their health, safety and development.  As you can imagine, Ed has to make things happen in some of the most extreme scenarios, responding to natural disasters and health incidents.  And he uses Getting Results the Agile Way as a system for driving results for himself and the teams he leads.

    Here is Ed Jezierski on Getting Results the Agile Way …

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    Elevator Pitches for Projects


    As a Program Manager, one of the things I’ve had to do a lot is, “pitch projects.”   Whether it’s pitching a project or talking about a project in the hall, it helps to have an elevator pitch that sticks. 

    The ideal elevator pitch for a project is simple, sticky, and makes the point fast.  Somebody shouldn’t have to work too hard to figure out what it’s about.  It’s the essence in a nutshell.

    The Minimum Elevator Pitch
    Here are a few example elevator pitches I’ve used for some of my projects:

    I’m a fan of the one-liner reminders.  They make it easy for you to tell and sell the story.  Additionally, they make it easier for others to tell and sell your story if they have a simple, sticky, one-liner reminder, and in today’s world, word-of-mouth marketing is your friend.

    The Maximum Elevator Pitch
    Here is an example of an elaborated elevator pitch template, I’ve used in patterns & practices on a slide, as a more formal way of expression the cornerstone attributes of the project:

    • Customer - For solution architects, lead developers.
    • Need – Prescriptive Guidance for the design and architecture of applications on the Microsoft platform.
    • Product name – Cloud Security Program
    • Key benefit – A durable and evolvable Microsoft playbook for application architecture which is on point with future Microsoft direction, principle based, pattern based, integrated and consolidation across the Microsoft technology stack, and a good frame that integrates the actionable principles, patterns, and proven implementations.
    • Differentiator – Principles, patterns and practices connected to Microsoft strategy and customer scenarios. The opposite is piecemeal, siloed, product-centric guidance and industry patterns efforts, not connected to technology stacks, and connected to expensive consulting services.
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    Getting Results the Agile Way on Stepcase Lifehack


    Chris Smith wrote a great overview of my productivity system on Stepcase Lifehack.org.  The article is Productivity System Overview: Getting Results the Agile Way.

    Chris is very familiar with various productivity systems, including Getting Things Done.   I enjoyed reading Chris’s article, and I especially liked how he covered so much ground in such a short amount of space.   He honed right in on what’s important, and made the key points pop.

    I think what Chris really caught on to, and surfaced in his review, is that Getting Results the Agile Way is all about achieving meaningful results, and not just doing more tasks.

    My Related Posts

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    Friday Links 07-15-2011


    From the Archives
    Customer-Connected Engineering – Involving customers throughout your software development cycle can help you make sure you make something your customers need and want.  It also helps you better understand the requirements and prioritize more effectively.  It also helps you get more relevant and timely feedback so you can ship stuff that people will use.  We’ve called the approach we’ve used in patterns & practices, Customer-Connected Engineering (CCE), and this is the approach in a nutshell.

    Methodologies at a Glance – At the heart of every software methodology, there are core practices.  When you know the key activities and artifacts that make up a methodology, you can easily compare across methodologies to find the best fit.  You can also fill your toolbox with practices so that you can use the ones that you need, when you need them.  This is a bird’s-eye view of some of the more popular software project and product development methodologies.

    From the Web
    Focus Guidelines – It’s been said that the difference between those that succeed, and those that don’t is focus.  Focus is a skill you can build and use throughout your lifetime, to counter distractions, fully engage in what you do, reduce stress, and improve your results.  This is a comprehensive set of guidelines that give you an edge in today’s world.

    How To – Set Goals and Achieve Them – This is a step-by-step guide for setting compelling goals, and making them happen.  If goals leave a bad taste in your mouth, this can help you turn it around.  It’s all about creating goals that inspire you and that help you achieve whatever you set out to do.

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    If You Can Differentiate, You Have a Competitive Monopoly


    In the article, The Strategy Accelerator, Alfred Griffioen shares his thoughts on competitive monopoly and how the only way outperform your competitors is through differentiation.

    Griffioen writes:

    “The question "how to be successful in the market" is among the most relevant for business economics, but only a few researchers and authors have formulated directive rather than descriptive answers.  A better direction can be found in basic economy researchers: if you can differentiate yourself from the competitors, you have a sort of monopoly.  In a monopoly you can choose your own price and quantity optimum on the demand curve.  As soon as you encounter competitors, the power shifts to the customer: the price is set by the market and you can only follow.  The only way outperform your competitors is through differentiation.”

    I think Griffioen raises some good points and the best way to differentiate is by building a better brand for whoever you serve.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Brand is the Ultimate Differentiator


    One town that all roads seem to lead to, is that … brand is the ultimate differentiator.

    It’s a reflection of the perception of perceived value, the emotional benefits, the intangibles and the culture and the values that the brand stands for.  In fact, a good way to test your brand is to figure out the three to five attributes that it represents.  

    Brand is a powerful thing because it’s a position in the mind.  For some categories, especially on the Web, sometimes you only need one brand at the top, and the rest don’t matter.  That’s why sometimes the only way to play, is to divide the niche, or expand to a new category.

    As an individual, your brand can serve you in many ways at your company, from opening doors to creating glide paths … especially, when your reputation proceeds you in a good way.

    The trick as an individual is, how do you fit in, while finding ways to stand out and sharing your unique value?

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    The Changing Landscape of Competitive Advantage


    In the article, The Strategy Accelerator, Alfred Griffioen shares some specific examples of how today’s landscape changes the competitive arena:

    • Online auctions replace relationship-based purchasing processes.
    • Small, innovative companies can offer their services and compete with larger players.
    • Faster product rationalization -- fast distribution technologieis increase the competition among products, while prices decline.
    • Transparency has increased, moving investment decisions from a company level to an activity level.
    • Knowledge can be obtained more easily, relevant components and partners can be found all over the world, and financial. resources can be obtained more easily for a good idea.
    • Small, specialized organizations with high added value activities can lead the new economy.

    I’ve seen this in action, and I like how Alfred called these out.  It helps us not just see the landscape, but start to form new rules for the road.

    My Related Posts

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    The Four Gears of Competitive Advantage


    In the article, The Strategy Accelerator, Alfred Griffioen shares four gears for differentiation and competitive advantage:

    1. First gear - No unique product and low customer relevance.
    2. Second gear - High customer relevance but no unique product.
    3. Third gear - A unique product but low customer relevance.
    4. Fourth gear - High customer relevance and a unique product.

    Strategies for Each Gear
    Griffioen shares strategies for each of the gears, to make the most of your market position:

    Scenario Solution
    First gear - No unique product and low customer relevance. Ally with others as the quickest way to build competence or product portfolio.
    Second gear - High customer relevance but no unique product Combine several matching products under your brand and become even more relevant for your customers.
    Third gear - A unique product but low customer relevance. Excel in what you do to make sure that you can continue to develop.
    Fourth gear - High customer relevance and a unique product. Consolidate your position by constant renewal and by keeping close watch on your competitors.

    I think it’s useful for evaluating, and is complementary to existing competitive models.

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    Models for Competitive Advantage


    In the article, The Strategy Accelerator, Alfred Griffioen identifies three models that have been used for strategic competitive differentiation:

    1. Porter's Model on Product differentiation, cost leadership, and focus strategy
    2. Treacy and Wiersema's model on product leadership, operational excellence, and customer intimacy.
    3. Boston Consulting Group portfolio matrix - how to direct the cash flows in your company depending on market growth and market share.  The BCG portfolio matrix has four categories: Cash Cows, Dogs, Question Marks, and Stars.

    Griffioen raises the question whether the models are still relevant, given  Porter’s is circa 1980, Traeacy and Wiersema’s are circa 1995, and the BCG portfolio mix is from 1959.

    I think the key is that while the landscape may change, the principles remain the same, they just need to be adapted.

    This helps show why knowing the *why* and the context behind a principle is always key (as in *why* or *how* does it work … or even *when* does it work?)  That’s why patterns are a key way to share principles and strategies (they not only build a shared language, while sharing a problem and solution pair, but they also bound it to a context.)

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    Focus on One of Three Value Disciplines for Competitive Success


    In their Value Disciplines Model, Treacy and Wiersema suggest that a business should focus on one of three value disciplines for success:

    1. Operational excellence
    2. Product leadership
    3. Customer intimacy

    This re-enforces the idea by John Hagel and Marc Singer to split businesses into three core types (infrastructure businesses, product innovation businesses, and customer relationship businesses.)

    The question of course is whether, does Traecy and Wiersema’s model hold up in today’s world, where business blends with technology, and social media makes customer intimacy a commodity?

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    Unbundle Your Business for Business Agility


    Since joining the Enterprise Strategy Team at Microsoft, I’ve had to shift gears and focus more on business, business architecture, and strategy patterns.  Luckily, there’s no shortage of material on business design.  The trick is finding the useful nuggets of insight and action. 

    Here’s an example of a useful nugget regarding how to think about the three core types of businesses …

    In the book, Business Model Generation, Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Alan Smith, Patrick Van Der Pijl, and Tim Clark suggest unbundling your business by splitting it into three core types:

    1. Product Innovation – Develop new and attractive services.
    2. Customer Relationship Management – Acquire and build relationships with customers.
    3. Infrastructure Management – Build and manage platforms for high volume, repetitive tasks.

    While the three types can co-exist within a single corporation, you can avoid conflicts or undesirable trade-offs by unbundling them, into separate entities.

    When your business is bundled, it’s tough to streamline things or make it more effective, because the focus is fractured.

    When you unbundle your business, you can gain clarity, focus, efficiencies, and effectiveness.  You can also make it easier to innovate in your processes, platforms, and products because of the clarity and focus.

    As you can imagine, this is crucial for any significant cloud plays and business transformations.  I’m in the business of business transformation now, as well as connecting business with IT (Information Technology), so it’s helpful to fill my toolbox with business strategies and business design methods, and I’ll share my toolbox with you as I go.

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    Organizing, Reading, and Writing Information Faster


    “Information is not knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

    What if you could streamline your way through vast seas of information to find the needles in the haystacks, or make sense of an ever changing landscape?  Information comes at us so fast, from so many directions.  The world changes fast, and, in a knowledge worker world, what you don’t know can hurt you.

    One of the FAQs I get asked by colleagues is, how do I make my way through so much information so fast?

    If I just say lots of years of deliberate practices writing and reviewing prescriptive guidance in patterns & practices, that doesn't help them much.  If I say, I spent hundreds of dollars on books each month and that forced me to read a lot faster, that doesn't help either.  So, I started paying attention to where the speed comes from.  It’s ultimately a system of things and habits from practice, but here are a few keys you can use …

    Organizing Information

    • Alphabetize long lists -- It makes it easy to spot duplicates, and it makes it faster for you to do lookups.
    • Chunk things up -- If you have a long list, simply bubble up the most important things and then create some space.  This gives you the simple + complete view.
    • Optimize for your scenarios -- If your main scenario is filing it away, then keep that super simple and as flat as possible.  Don’t add little traps or tricks that complicate it.   Make it so that you can do it in batches.  For example, I have one folder for all the mail I read.  It’s fast filing.  If your main scenario is retrieving, then make it easy to do so.
    • Wherever you keep looking for it, that’s where it should be -- One way to figure out where to put information is to simply put it where you keep looking for it.  Then you will leverage your natural pattern and thought process.

    Reading and Analyzing Information

    • Identify your objectives – By knowing your goals, you improve your clarity, focus, and motivation.  You can also choose better strategies.  You can identify your objectives by asking what you.
    • Make a short list of questions or problems you want answers to – Questions focus your mind, and engage it in a way that’s more resourceful and active, versus just going along for the ride.  If you’ve ever read a page and then realized you just read a page and didn’t realize you read a page and you have to backtrack, then you know what I mean.  Wanting to answer a few questions or solve a few problems will make the information more interesting and it will help you focus on what counts.
    • Switch gears -- Think sprint not marathon and actually flip the switch so your brain is ready to rumble.  Think “race to the value” vs. “walk in the park.”
    • Ask, "How can I use this?"  -- If you can't turn the information into action fast, then it might not be useful or relevant, or there might be a better way to figure it out.  The simple act of asking yourself how you can use it, will cause your brain to look for useful and actionable insights.  You’ll find that lots of useful information, tends to be garnished in unnecessary wrapper.   Your job is to hack through the information jungle with your mental machete to get to the good stuff.

    Writing Information Faster

    • Write with a plain text editor that’s fast – This helps you focus on just the bare-bones value, and not get caught up in look and feel.  The most important thing is to not be waiting on your editor to catch up with you … that will break your rhythm and your pace, and it will break your flow.  Your flow is where the speed gets exponential.
    • Make it work, then make it right -- This is another way to say write it down, then edit later.  If you self-edit your way on every line you write, you create your own worst bottlenecks.  Let the information fly free, then go through and tune and prune it.  It will also be easier to think on paper, once you have it looking back at you.  The trick is to keep the information terse, so you can easily rearrange or reshape it, and later embellish it, if need be.  Just breaking free from your inner-editor, will exponentially increase your ability to write faster.  Get used to multiple passes though.
    • Sketch it, then elaborate it – This is the key to information engineering and information architecture or knowledge engineering.  Think in terms of a backbone and start with that.  Simply write down the big ideas and big framing concepts first.  Set the frame, then add the meat to the bones.
    • Think master and details or “hub and spoke.”   This is a useful model for when you need to create a bird’s-eye view of a space.  You can summarize the most important points, and then point to the details.  The master is the hub, and the details are the spokes.
    • Frame the space, then elaborate – This is another way of thinking in terms of “sketch-first.”  In this case, what you’re doing is setting the frame.  The frame is what’s in and what’s out of the picture.  The frame is how you look at or what lens you create for the information.  It’s the frame that helps bound the information.  Once you have the frame, it’s easier to and faster to know which information is relevant, so when you elaborate, you have some guard rails in place.
    • Iterate and version it – Don’t think “one pass.”  Think “as many passes in the timeframe to balance beauty, benefits, and effectiveness.”   In an age of information overload, and where people are used to edu-tainment, and info-tainment, beauty counts for something.  However, information that solves a valuable problem and actually delivers some benefits never goes out of style.  If you measure against effectiveness, and problems solves, you have a measuring stick for the value of your information, and this will help you stay on track as you write with might.
    • Set time limits – For example, I set a time limit of 10 minutes for this post.   I didn’t want to over-engineer it, and I wanted to just solve a very simple problem – give people that need it a few strategies that can help them deal with information overload and speed up their own ability to organize, read, and write information faster.  Having this time limit means I won’t second-guess myself and I won’t word-smith things to death, and I’ll avoid analysis paralysis.  Instead, it’s how quickly can I solve this problem in a meaningful way, and if I test it against the key scenarios, does it hold up “good enough for now”?  This also helps me focus and prioritize, and chop the stuff that just doesn’t add enough value.  The downside is, I don’t have enough time to write a shorter post, but the upside is … I’m done Smile
  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Motivation Techniques and Motivation Theories


    "To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities." – Bruce Lee

    Motivation is a key to making things happen, whether you’re developing software, leading teams, or just getting yourself out of bed and on with your day.

    It's hard to change the world, or even just your world for that matter, if you lack the motivation or drive.  In a world where there is plenty that can bring you down, the best thing you can do is arm yourself with motivation techniques that work, and motivation theories that explain *why* they work.

    Motivation Techniques
    You can motivate yourself with skill, as well as others, if you know the key motivation techniques.  Here is my latest collection of motivation techniques and methods at a glance:

    You can use the motivation techniques to motivate yourself and others.

    Motivation Theories
    There are a lot of motivation theories that are relevant, and some have evolved over the years.    Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is useful to know for understanding some basic drivers.  It’s also useful to know David McClelland’s Theory of Needs , and that focuses on achievement, affiliation, and power as key drivers. 

    It’s also useful to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  For example, if you depend on other people to carrot or stick you, you’re driving from extrinsic motivation.  If instead, you’re doing something because it makes you feel alive or unleashes your passion or simply just for a job well done, then you’re driving from intrinsic motivation, and that is a powerful place to be. 

    It’s also useful to know that at the end of the day, purpose is the most powerful driver, and if you can connect what you do to your purpose, then you bring out your best and you’re a powerful force to be reckoned with.  Purpose, passion, and persistence change the game.

    Timeline of Motivation Theories, Studies, and Models
    Here is a timeline of some interesting work on the study of motivation:

    • 1939 - The Hawthorne studies focused on supervision, incentives, and working conditions.
    • 1957 - Argyris focused on the congruence between individual's needs and organizational demands.
    • 1959 - Focused on sources of work satisfaction to design the work to make it enriching and rewarding (Herberg, Mausner, and Snyderman)
    • 1964 - Valence-instrumentality-expectancy model (Vroom.)
    • 1975 - Organizational behavior modification - Focused on the automatic role of rewards and feedback on work motivation, but downplayed the impact of psychological processes such as goals and self-efficacy.
    • 1977 - Self-efficacy (Locke)
    • 1980 - Focused on ways specific work characteristics and psychological processes that increase employee satisfaction. (Hackman, and Oldham.)
    • 1986 - Goals and self-efficacy (Bandura)
    • 1986 – Social-cognitive theory (Bandura)
    • 1986 - Attribution theory - Focuses on how the ways you make attributions affects your future choices and actions. (Weiner)
    • 1987 - Goal theory - Focuses on the effects of conscious goals as motivators of task performance. (Lord and Hanges)
    • 1997 – Self-efficacy has a powerful motivation effect on task performance (Bandura.)
    • 2002 - Goal-setting theory (Locke and Latham)

    Motivation Quotes
    If you need some inspiring words of wisdom, be sure to explore my collection of motivation quotes.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Filters and Priorities


    One of my mentors showed me a simple success pattern for achieving more at work, while gaining more credibility and freedom.   It’s Filters and Priorities. 


    The method works by  connecting your work to business priorities.  He put the simple picture above as a way to illustrate the point.

    Basically, management has a set of priorities they are focused on.  Managers will also tend to have filters for how they look at the world.  It’s the language they use and the trigger words they care about.  It’s their map of reality.  Your opportunity then is to figure out how your work connects to the priorities, using their filters.

    When you focus on these meaningful intersections, and connect your work, you amplify success at multiple levels.  Rather than pursuit disconnected ideas, you connect your ideas in a way that gains leverage.  You also gain the power of focus.  In addition, as you get these wins under your belt, and you gain credibility, it’s easier for management to trust you to go out on a limb, and start going after the wild cards, and testing your game changers.

    At the worst case, at least you stay relevant.  Relevancy is king in a demand-driven or pull-driven world.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Weekly Reminders for Changing Your Habits and Adopting New Practices


    “Motivation is what gets you started.  Habit is what keeps you going.”  -- Jim Ryun

    One of the best moves I use to change habits and adopt new practices is very simple, but very effective:

    I schedule a recurring Friday appointment on my calendar.  On that appointment, I list reminders, habits, and practices that I want to work on.   It’s the art of applied reflection.

    I tend to use bulleted questions, because they make a great checklist and I find that questions work better than statements for reflection.  Here are a couple of examples to show what I mean:

    • Am I leading by example and setting a personal example of what to expect?
    • Am I describing a compelling image of the future?
    • Am I bringing out the best in everybody and leveraging their strengths?

    You get the idea.

    This works extremely well for baking in new practices, especially after taking a new course or training.  It helps turn the training into action, because it forces you to turn the insights you learned into simple test cases (For example, the questions above.)   It also works well, simply because it’s making you mindful of your choices, and it’s reminding you to check your thinking, feeling, or doing against your goals.

    I’ve been using this practice for several years, and it’s worked like a champ.  It’s part of the Friday Reflection pattern in Getting Results the Agile Way.

    If there is a new pattern or practice you want to adopt, simply add a Friday reminder and see how easily you can adopt a new habit.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Friday Links 07-08-2010


    From the Archives
    40 Hour Work Week at Microsoft - If you want to be more effective, limit the time you spend.  It’s a forcing function that fixes a lot of underlying execution issues that you just cannot see if your organization throws time at problems.

    Patterns and Practices for New Hires - These are from the school of hard knocks.  Whether you're a new hire or taking on a new job, I share some principles, patterns and practices to be more effective.

    From the Web
    A Language for Software Architecture - An article I wrote for The Architecture Journal on how to map out the software architecture space, so we can organize and share knowledge more effectively.

    You 2.0 – A free e-Book I wrote to help you unleash a version of your best self.  Find your purpose, live your values, play to your strengths.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Interpersonal Skills Books


    As part of the Great Books to Read Collection, I put together a collection of the best books on Interpersonal Skills.

    When it comes to building software, shipping stuff, or just plain making things happen, interpersonal skills are a key to success.  With interpersonal skills, you can better deal with the following scenarios:

    • Dealing with different communication styles and needs
    • Coping with difficult bosses or dealing with difficult people
    • Surviving personality clashes
    • Appreciating and understanding different motivation patterns and drivers
    • Reflecting on your own personal patterns and using for growth
    • Creating lenses to understand difficult behaviors and tough situations
    • Dealing with conflict in terms of values or goals or styles
    • Fostering effective teamwork and collaboration in the toughest scenarios
    • Having the tough conversations that count

    What makes these the best books on interpersonal skills?  They are books you can use to solve real problems.  They are ones that have made an actual difference for many people in tough scenarios.  (Of course, best is all relative, so only you know which books are best for you, by testing what works for your specific scenarios.)

    While there are so many books that are truly useful, there is one in particular that I know many people have found to be insanely useful.  It’s the book, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner.  Here’s why … the book gives you a “lens of human understanding” that helps you see what drives people to act a certain way.  Once you understand this, it’s like knowing how the magic trick was done … all is revealed.  The other reason why people like this book so much is because it gives you a language for bad behaviors.  Having a language for bad behaviors makes it easy to identify them, understand them, and deal with them, in an actionable way.

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    Best Books to Read on Personal Development


    What are the best books to read on personal development, business, leadership, management, etc.?

    How To Find the Best Books to Read
    That’s a tough question to answer because it’s about context, relevancy, and your particular situation.  That said, maybe a better question is, how do you figure out the best books to read?  The approach I've used is three-fold:

    1. I've spent a few hundred dollars on books each month and I test them at Microsoft in terms of leading teams, driving results, personal growth, building leadership skills, improving time management, etc.  (My pain can be your gain.)
    2. I've asked the most effective people I know, which books have changed their life or in some way helped them build skills or mental models and strategies to get results.  (This has been the most surprising and effective way that I find the books to read that help the most.)
    3. I've focused on solving relevant and real-world problems, using both with timeless truths, and new books with emerging practices.  I’ve found that the value of a book is the value of the problem solved.

    It's been many years, blood, sweat, and tears, of cultivating a library of the world's best insight and action for work and life.  It's all part of the path.  Part of my staying power is that it's a labor of love -- I have a passion for reading, and long ago, I learned to embrace continuous learning as a success strategy for life.

    One thing I do need to say is that while it might seem like a long and winding road, books have always been my short-cut.  They are self-paced and, as a fast reader, I can learn the information and apply it very quickly to get results.

    Best Books to Read
    Here are some of my collections of best books to read:

    Hopefully, this can help you find the books you've been looking for, or at least help you find new and interesting books to read that might help you in ways you didn’t expect.  Hopefully, this also saves you a lot of time on your journey by providing a "book map" of useful books organized by key categories.

    The landscape is always changing, so I'm always interested in hearing about books that I should read.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Structuring Your Personal Backlog to Make Things Happen


    Structuring your personal backlog of work you have to do, helps you in multiple ways:

    • It helps you see your work at a glance
    • It helps you batch and consolidate work to gain efficiencies
    • It helps you see deal with incoming flow, work in flight, and work to be done

    The process for a simple backlog is pretty simple.  Here are the keys:

    1. Make a list for each separate project or big activity you have on your plate.
    2. For each project or big activity, make a list of the big tasks or chunks of work.
    3. Split the tasks into Priority 1 and Priority 2 (P1 and P2.)

    The mental model for how you are structuring your backlog for each project is this:

    • To Do (in flight)
    • Backlog (P1, P2)
    • Done

    Here is an example of a list for project X:

    - Apples
    - Oranges (Orange you glad I didn’t say Banana)
    - Pears

    - Kiwi
    - Lemons
    - Mangos
    - Pineapples
    .. etc.

    - Blueberries
    - Cranberries
    - Grapes

    By keeping your lists flat and functional, they are easy to update, easy to store, and easy to share.  Whether you use OneNote, Excel, Workflowy, or EverNote, you have a list for each project, and each list has a simple map of the work to be done, at your finger tips.

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